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Previous Convictions Can Show Propensity in Sex Assault ChargesIllinois courts do not allow prosecutors to present a defendant’s prior convictions as evidence of his or her propensity to commit the same crime. Juries are instructed to determine the defendant’s guilt or innocence based on the evidence related to the current charge. Showing someone's propensity to commit a crime is the prosecution's way of trying to convince a jury to convict a defendant because he or she is a bad person. However, Illinois law makes an exception for sex offenses. Prosecutors can use a defendant’s prior sexual assault conviction as evidence in an ongoing sexual assault case.

Recent Decision

An Illinois appellate court recently denied a defendant’s contention that prosecutors should not have been allowed to use his prior rape conviction as evidence in his sexual assault case. In 2012, the defendant was charged with and eventually convicted on three counts of criminal sexual assault for allegedly entering the home of a 21-year-old woman and forcibly having sex with her. The defendant had previously been convicted for the home invasion and gang rape of a 62-year-old woman in 1982, for which he served 25 years in prison. During the 2012 case, the trial court allowed the prosecution to submit the 1982 conviction as evidence of the defendant’s propensity to commit sexual assault. The court dismissed the defendant’s claim that the evidence would prejudice a jury. The defendant then requested a bench trial, and the court found him guilty, sentencing him to life in prison. In the appeal, a majority of the appellate judges upheld the lower court’s decision.

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Conor's Law Prioritizes Safety of Underage DrinkersBeing arrested is a frightening experience for a young person, whether a juvenile or young adult. They may feel intimidated by the process and fear that they have ruined their lives. If the young person is under the influence of an intoxicating substance, he or she may make a drastic decision. Such was the unfortunate case for an Illinois college student in 2015, whose actions after his driving under the influence of alcohol arrest led to him committing suicide. Illinois recently created Conor’s Law, which requires police officers to take additional steps to ensure the safety of an underage arrestee who may be intoxicated.

What Went Wrong

Conor Vesper was a student at Blackburn College when he was pulled over and arrested on suspicion of DUI. He was released on bond in the early morning hours but reportedly had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.124. After walking back to his apartment, he borrowed his roommate’s car in order to drive to his family’s home. Likely still impaired, his driving behavior once again drew the attention of a police officer. This time, he did not stop and led police on a chase. Once at home, he was able to procure a gun and shot himself.

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Drug-Induced Homicide Conflicts with Good Samaritan LawIllinois created its drug-induced homicide law in 1989 as a way to prosecute people who supply drugs that lead to a user’s death. The law was rarely enforced until the recent increase of heroin-related overdoses. Advocates for the law believe that homicide charges against drug dealers may persuade them to give up information on their suppliers, in exchange for a reduced sentence. However, critics point out flaws in how the law works in practice:

  • Many of those punished are not sellers but users who shared the drug with a friend;
  • Proving the charge can be difficult and time consuming;
  • Drug dealers may not know the drug contained additives, such as fentanyl, that often cause the fatal reaction; and
  • Prosecuting sellers does not decrease the demand for the drugs that is driving use.

One of the most harmful effects of the drug-induced homicide law is how it conflicts with Illinois’ good samaritan law, which is meant to encourage life-saving actions in overdose cases.

Good Samaritan Overdose Act

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New Illinois Law to Help Motorists in Passing CyclistsIllinois law protects cyclists’ right to share the road with motorists, but some situations make it difficult for both parties to do so while staying safe. Take the scenario where a motorist and cyclist are traveling in the same direction on a narrow, two-lane road with a speed limit of 40 miles per hour. If the motorist is behind the cyclist, the motorist may want to pass because the cyclist is unable to travel at the speed limit. However, there are several rules of the road that can make it illegal to do so:

  • The motorist must give the cyclist three feet of space when passing, which may be impossible while staying in the lane;
  • A no-passing zone would make it illegal for the motorist to use the opposite lane to pass the cyclist; and
  • The cyclist is not allowed to ride on the shoulder of the road.

Motorists can either commit a traffic violation in order to pass the cyclist or remain behind the cyclist at a significantly reduced speed. Obeying the law may agitate the motorist, leading to a reckless decision that could endanger the cyclist. Recognizing the unsafe situation, Illinois plans to enact a law that allows motorists to safely pass cyclists without committing a traffic violation.

New Law

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Probation for First-Time Felony Drug PossessionIllinois defendants suspected of possessing illegal drugs can face felony charges, even if it is a first offense. In Illinois, it is a felony to possess at least:

  • 15 grams of cocaine, heroin, LSD or morphine;
  • 30 grams of ketamine, methaqualone, pentazocine or phencyclidine; or
  • 200 grams of amphetamines, barbituric acid or peyote.

The lowest level felony charge for possession of these drugs is class 1, which may result in 4 to 15 years in prison and as much as $25,000 in fines. However, Illinois offers a special form of probation for first-time felony drug offenders. With this probation, you can avoid the harshest penalties of a felony drug conviction.

410 Probation

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